The worst was feared when Pedro Horrillo plunged over 80 metres into a deep ravine at last year’s Giro d’Italia. Miraculously the Rabobank rider was found alive and winched to safety with a long list of injuries, but it brought an end to his 10-years as a professional cyclist.
Having survived the accident, which left the Spaniard with fractures to his thigh bone, kneecap, and neck plus a punctured lung, Horrillo has returned to the Tour de France as a reporter. While he writes for Spanish daily El Pais, Horrillo still rides his bike on the course prior to each stage.
On Thursday he arrived in Montargis, where he won stage two of Paris-Nice. It was exactly the same stage finish as that used in the 2004 edition.
“I’ve had great pleasure riding this road again,” Horrillo told Cyclingnews. “I haven’t been here since then. I had watched Robbie McEwen winning at the Tour on TV in 2005 and I always remembered the name of Montargis because I haven’t won much in my career.
“I recognised every detail of the final kilometre,” he added. “When I won here, it was a windy day and echelons formed with the whole CSC team at the front. I was supposed to lead Tom Boonen out but he had a flat tyre with 10km to go and I remained alone. I anticipated the sprint of the breakaway group formed in the echelons.”
Horrillo, who studied philosophy at university before turning professional, wrote regular columns for El Pais during his racing days. “My articles were very personal,” he said. “Even when I wrote them from home and not from the races I spoke a lot about what I was doing. Now I write about the others. I feel like a real journalist now but I’m still too close to the riders. I have many friends in the bunch and my way of thinking is still the one of a rider.
“Here, El Pais senior cycling reporter Carlos Arribas writes the race reports and I explain the way I’ve seen the sprints,” he added. “They are different from last year when they were controlled by HTC-Columbia.”
Horrillo was Oscar Freire’s main man at Vitalicio at the beginning of their respective careers, then Mapei and later Rabobank. “I hope Oscar will win at this Tour as well,” said the Basque. “He’s less and less of a sprinter. He doesn’t take risks anymore.
“I’ve seen him battling with another rider in the last curve but at the exit, he wasn’t up there anymore,” he said. “He needs the other sprinters to be more tired to show his strength. Stage two to Spa was a good one for him; unfortunately, we all know what happened that day.”
Despite the incredibly experienced journalists at the Tour de France, Horrillo is probably the only person that can walk into the Rabobank bus at anytime. “I don’t want to disturb anyone,” he said. “But I still feel this bus is like my home. If I’m thirsty, I go there and get a drink.”
Horrillo also wears a Rabobank jersey when he rides to the finish, but it’s a very special one. At last year’s Giro, riders received a jersey with tri-colour stripes in red, white and green to celebrate the Italian race’s centennial in Milan. Horrillo had crashed one day earlier and was at Bergamo’s hospital in an induced coma when his teammates received the new kit.
“Rabobank’s directeur sportif Adri Van Houwelingen gave this jersey to me in Rotterdam,” Horrillo said. “Fourteen months ago he never thought I’d wear it one day. That’s why I’m wearing it now instead of keeping it at home as a souvenir.
“My life is changing from the one of a professional bike rider to something else,” he added. “This is a symbol of my new life. To be able to put this jersey onto my shoulder is already a victory.”
Pedro Horrillo is airlifted from the accident scene after falling over a guard rail at the 2009 Giro d'Italia.
Horrillo spent two months in hospital before undergoing a rehabilitation process. While Rabobank had kept a spot on the team for him, Horrillo decided after Christmas to retire.
“All the doctors have told me it would be impossible to come back to the level I had before,” he said. “I’m lucky that my body is functioning. I lack strength though. My bad leg gives only 40 percent of what the good one gives.”
Horrillo has been looking after his two children since completing his rehab, while his wife returned to work at the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao. He has also directed a team at a mountain bike race in Morocco, where the Jalabert brothers and former world champion Abraham Olano raced.
Horrillo also went to the Tour of California as a PR for Rabobank, but he seems to be in his real element writing for El Pais at the Tour de France. Horrillo contested the Tour on two occasions during his 10-year career, debuting in 1999 with Vitalicio Seguros - Grupo Generali and returning in 2002 with Mapei-Quick Step.